NFL Fantasy: Player match-ups to target – and avoid – in Week 14

It's the first week of the playoffs in season-long fantasy - and it's always playoff time in daily - here's our breakdown of some crucial match-ups

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I’m not here to tell you if and when Christian McCaffrey and Michael Thomas have good or bad matchups, because you’re starting them each and every week. While it’s good to know the strength of matchups for all of your players, it’s much more valuable in relation to the fringe starters and high-end bench players than it is for your studs. Matchups should be one of the final components in making roster decisions, whether drafting for season-long strength of schedule or making a start/sit decision. It’s a piece of the puzzle, but it should not be a primary consideration.

We’re looking at borderline start/sit players here and identifying particularly good or bad matchups that could influence those decisions. These are not specifically start/sit recommendations, as the alternative options are always relevant. This advice needs context, but it can be used to upgrade or downgrade players in your weekly rankings.

Sep 9, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks on following the game against San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

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Quarterback

Good matchup: Kirk Cousins (vs. DET) – Cousins has quietly been on a hot streak for most of the season, scoring less than 17 fantasy points just once since his first big game in Week 5 and over 20 fantasy points in five of those contests. This week, Cousins faces off with a divisional foe in the Detroit Lions, who have allowed the third-most passing yards this season. In their first matchup this season, Cousins topped 300 passing yards with four touchdowns thrown. This time, he’ll do it with a slightly depleted offence, but the situation still looks good for Cousins against a team that has allowed 25 passing scores this year and has just five interceptions. The Lions are also top ten in highest yards per attempt (7.8) allowed to opposing passers, making Cousins a fine QB1 option this week.

Bad matchup: Josh Allen (vs. BAL) – This will be a theme of the fantasy playoffs, as Allen and the Buffalo Bills have a brutal schedule for the passing attack through the fantasy playoffs. On the plus side, Allen has scored over 17 fantasy points in eight straight games. On the minus side, he hasn’t faced a defence as tough as the Baltimore Ravens in that stretch, with most of the teams being softer pass defences. The Ravens are allowing just below the average mark in terms of passing yards, but more importantly, just 10 passing scores (third-lowest) have been thrown against them this season, compared with 11 interceptions (top-ten). As has been the case with Allen’s last two games against tough pass defences, where he threw for a combined 416 yards and three scores, Allen will need to post a big day on the ground to pay off this week. Fortunately for those who rolled him out in the last two weeks, he has 99 rushing yards and a score in those games combined.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – NOVEMBER 03: Running back James White #28 of the New England Patriots makes a catch in front of safety Earl Thomas III #29 of the Baltimore Ravens during the second quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on November 3, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

Running Back

Good matchup: James White (vs. KC) – It’s no secret that the New England Patriots had a soft schedule early in the year, and once they played a high-powered offence (without the winter storm), they gave up points and needed to throw in bunches. Smart money would certainly be on that happening again this week as they host the Kansas City Chiefs, who are only three-point underdogs in a game with a 48.5 Over/Under total. White played a season-high 78% of the snaps last week against the Houston Texans and also set season highs in carries (14) and targets (11). Even with a drop in snaps and touches, White should be in a fine spot in a likely offensive showcase this week against the Chiefs.

Bad matchup: Bo Scarbrough (at MIN) – This worked well (not) last week for downgrading the Seattle Seahawks backs, so let’s go back to it. Scarborough lines up this week against the Minnesota Vikings, who are now allowing rushing yards and essentially an average rate in the league (104.5 per game), but are league-leaders with just five rushing scores surrendered. That’s all that really matters for Scarborough, who has logged just one target in the last three weeks since taking over as the lead back for the Lions. Scarborough won’t offer anything in the passing game, so fantasy owners rolling with Scarborough in Week 14 are praying for a touchdown, which is a long-shot bet.

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 08: Wide receiver Sammy Watkins #14 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs a pass reception in for a touchdown in the first quarter of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on September 08, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Wide Receiver

Good matchup: Zach Pascal (at TB) – Don’t be afraid to throw the de facto WR1 for the Indianapolis Colts into starting lineups for this week’s showdown with the ultra-pass-funnel Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. With T.Y. Hilton still looking unlikely to return, Pascal should see plenty of targets — he has 29 total in four games without Hilton active this season. Meanwhile, the Bucs have allowed the second-most passing yards and third-most passing touchdowns this season. Most of that production is going to wide receivers, and the Bucs have allowed 19 touchdowns to wideouts this season, behind just the Miami Dolphins with 21. Pascal is a nice upside WR3 for this week.

Bad matchup: Sammy Watkins (at NE) – Watkins opened the season with 198 yards and three touchdowns, but has been mostly a ghost since then. His target volume was excellent (8 or more targets in six of his first seven games played) until recently. Watkins has now seen three targets in each of his last two games, totalling two catches for 26 yards. Especially for this week against the New England Patriots, who are allowing the second-fewest passing yards and the fewest passing touchdowns, Watkins is a no-brainer fade in all formats. The worst part is that New England has allowed just two touchdowns to opposing wide receivers, so it’s hard to see much of either a floor or ceiling this week for Watkins.

Sep 24, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald (89) stiff arms Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Chris Conte (23) during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Tight End

The tight end position remains brutal, so if you have a reliable option, start him. There are six must-starts this week, and then TE7 through TE18’s projections are separated by under two points. If you start any of the streaming options, just hope he falls into the end zone. If Jack Doyle, Jared Cook, or Michael Gesicki are either on your roster or available, it’s a tough sell not to start them this week either.

For those in need, consider Vance McDonald (the Arizona Cardinals are the worst team at defending tight ends in almost every way possible), Tyler Higbee if Gerald Everett is inactive (the Seattle Seahawks are top five in share of receiving yards allowed to tight ends at just over 24%), and — if you’re really desperate — Jonnu Smith (the Oakland Raiders have allowed eight touchdowns to tight ends this season, the second-most in the NFL). Otherwise, don’t overthink it, as there are not enough reliable options at the position.

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